Garza Martinez, ACLU, and ACLU of Texas Fight to Hold Government Accountable for Unlawful Prosecution of South Texas’ Lizelle Gonzalez

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
June 18, 2024 9:00 am

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McALLEN, Texas – The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Texas, and Texas-based firm Garza Martinez filed an opposition to a motion to dismiss today in a case challenging the unlawful investigation and prosecution of Lizelle Gonzalez, who was arrested, jailed, and unlawfully charged with murder after a medication abortion she had in 2022.

Texas law clearly prohibits the criminal prosecution of pregnant women for conduct that ends their pregnancy. Despite knowing that Ms. Gonzalez’s conduct was not a crime under Texas law, the sheriff, district attorney, and assistant district attorney initiated a criminal investigation, and then pursued and obtained what they knew to be an unlawful indictment against Ms. Gonzalez. She spent three days in jail before a $500,000 bond was posted to secure her release. Though the district attorney eventually dismissed the charge, the government officials who caused her harm have yet to be held accountable for the misconduct, abuse of power, and violation of Ms. Gonzalez’s constitutional rights.

Soon after the criminal charge was dropped, the Texas Bar investigated the district attorney for knowingly pursuing an unlawful indictment. The Texas Bar made a finding of professional misconduct, including for lying in his response to the bar’s investigation and for prosecuting a murder charge against Ms. Gonzalez that he knew was unsupported by probable cause. Despite these violations, the district attorney remains in office as the chief prosecutor for the county and still has the power to investigate and prosecute.

“No one is above the law, including and especially the people we entrust to enforce it,” said Cecilia Garza, attorney at Garza Martinez Law, “The actions of the Starr County district attorney, assistant district attorney, and sheriff put our client’s private life on display for the whole world: It was traumatizing, humiliating, and impacted her life forever. Lizelle is a mother of three, a sister, a daughter, and an integral member of our community, unlawfully prosecuted at one of the most difficult and personal times in her life. Our community is diverse – with varying views on the right to end a pregnancy – but if government officials can unlawfully prey on people based on their personal beliefs, we are all at risk of being their next target.”

The brief counters the prosecutors’ and law enforcement’s claims of legal immunity, a legal doctrine that may prohibit government officials, including police and prosecutors, from being held accountable for some constitutional violations. However, that doctrine does not shield government actors who knowingly falsely accuse and arrest someone for a crime they did not commit. The individuals here should not be permitted to evade responsibility for the violations of Ms. Gonzalez’s constitutional rights and the harm they caused her.

“We will not let this egregious constitutional violation be swept under the rug and go away quietly,” said Adriana Piñon, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. “In Starr County and across the state of Texas, we must demand that law enforcement officials commit to using their power responsibly and justly.”

The civil suit, filed by Ms. Gonzalez in March 2024, seeks accountability and damages from the district attorney, assistant district attorney, sheriff, and county for the wrongful investigation, prosecution, and arrest that continue to harm her and her family.

“A system in which law enforcement and prosecutors can ignore the law to wrongfully charge, arrest, and upend the lives of individuals is not a fair or just system and it certainly isn’t a system that makes us any safer,” said Lauren Johnson, director of the ACLU’s Abortion Criminal Defense Initiative. “We need to hold prosecutors accountable to stop this abuse of power and put an end to the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes.”

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